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Jun 23, 2017 12:14 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Whiling Away The Day At Croteaux Vineyards

Jun 25, 2017 11:04 AM

Cloudy day notwithstanding, when I pulled into a gravel driveway hidden away in lush green vegetation off Route 25, I could have sworn I was in Provence and not Southold. A proud shingled barn. An antique truck. A picket fence. The first spray of June roses. What was this place, and how had I never been here before?

The place was Croteaux Vineyards, named for its proprietor, Michael Croteau, who acquired the property in the early 1990s. Two barns, a carriage house and a main house now play host to home and office (Mr. Croteau lives in the restored 1800s farmhouse, which neighbors the winery). Pass an aquamarine Volkswagen Beetle (the original version) and gain entrée to a tiny, cozy, low-ceilinged room, where a host directs traffic out into an expansive courtyard, full of Adirondack chairs, Edison bulbs, more of those coral-colored roses, and barns outfitted with bright cushions, perfect for whiling away those summer days.

The scene has been set for a day of drinking. The 14 acres under vine are both across the street from the property and beyond its back fence, where courtyarding sippers can watch the mist settle from the Peconic, as I did.

Did I mention that Croteaux only produces rosé?

When Michael Croteau began working and living on this tract of Southold land, he sold fruit to neighboring winemakers, like Channing Daughters. Mr. Croteau, a graphic designer by trade, had designed the bottle art for Channing, as well as for other notable East End vineyards. After a few seasons of selling his grapes, Mr. Croteau decided to make wine, too.

When Mr. Croteau decided to dedicate his space to rosé, he was met with some resistance. There was a prevailing belief that rosé was “what you made in a bad red wine year.” Still, he recounted, his agenda was clear: “Why do what everyone else was doing?”

These days, Croteaux Vineyards—itself a Provençal-sounding play on the proprietor’s name—serves flights of sparkling and still rosé to throngs of people until the juice sells out, generally by early fall. The lineup includes an impressive palette of pink, ranging from onionskin (the Sauvignon Blanc sauvage) to deep salmon (the Jolie Cabernet Franc). Wines are vinified by varietal and by clone and are labeled accordingly, too. This year, which marks the 11th vintage, Mr. Croteau and his winemaker Alie Shaper increased production to 6,300 cases.

Sparkling wines are made from the Charmat method—wine undergoes a second fermentation (the one that makes it sparkle) in a closed tank as opposed to a bottle—like Prosecco, though I found these sparklers to be less clunky than their Italian counterparts. In fact, a ribbon of fine beading, watched with the naked eye, looked almost imperceptibly different from the fine threads of Champagne.

But these wines are not Champagne, nor do they wish to be. To me, the true experience of Croteaux Vineyards is the hedonism inherent: The dewy green of the vineyards, the well-worn beams of an antique barn, the promise of a twinkling of lights at the magic hour, the spectrum of pink at midday. Michael Croteau’s aesthetic is nearly as important as the wine itself.

And what of that wine? The majority of Croteaux Vineyards is planted to Merlot, a soft, plummy grape that is as versatile as it is substantive. Tasting through the unblended, separately bottled clones, one might think these diverse wines were made from different varietals entirely. The Merlot 181 clone, originally hailing from Bordeaux’s Right Bank encampment of Pomerol, teemed with melon and stone fruit, while the Merlot 314—a Saint-Émilion clone—was a powerful, robust, and rich style of rosé that would have been outstanding with summer pizza or even a lean steak.

I couldn’t help but like the stone fruit-redolent Chloe sparkling, which is that pigmented Sauvignon Blanc in bubbly form. The wine is the winery’s most popular, and it was instantly apparent why. It was not hard to envision a lazy June afternoon in a tipped-back Adirondack, Chloe in hand.

Thankfully, the weather was June gloom over bloom. Else, I might have whiled away an entire Monday in that courtyard, studying the competing shades of pink. But, alas, I had to leave eventually. Heading back to my car, bottle of Chloe in hand, I was followed by the ephemeral smell of those coral roses. Or maybe it was just my imagination.

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